The Impossible Institute

Let me set the timeline for everybody. It’s 2008. Schools are seeing some pretty nice numbers, maybe 60 a trimester where I was. Court reporting steno schools are saying this is a timeless, guaranteed profession. Obsolescence is impossible and there will always be tons of work. 2010 comes along, and my class of reporters is told by the market there’s no work. There’s a glut. Too many reporters, not enough work. We’ll start you at what they made in 1991 because we’re such benevolent people. And by the way, rate increase is impossible. By 2014, there’s news of a shortage incoming. and by 2018, the shortage is in full swing, and even here in New York, where you had agencies like Diamond not paying their people copies, unless they really liked them, they started paying copies to a larger percentage of their reporters. That was after almost a decade of such a terrible cost to the agency being deemed impossible. Thanks, partner.

So it’s interesting whenever someone tells me something can’t happen, won’t happen, or is impossible. It’s equally interesting when someone comes out with an authoritative and definite prediction, that something must happen. So I briefly reviewed some materials out of STTI, the new mouthpiece of the anti-steno business coalition. Completely ignoring the resurgence of American stenography and my series of ten shortage solutions, the STI says crunch the numbers, it’s impossible for schools to meet the forecasted shortage of 8,000 reporters by 2020. Well, maybe, when we go by the information from 2013, it seems unlikely. But when you can log into the Open Steno Discord and see almost 100 people online on a Saturday morning in 2019, and you can see for yourself the constant efforts of A to Z, Project Steno, and private schools, it seems like these so-called experts have little more than a BA in BS.

Don’t take it from me, look at their own words. They try to pin the blame on NCRA for not adopting voice writing wholesale. But what kind of argument is that? Voice writing has been around since World War II, but the NCRA didn’t adopt it, so now it’s too late, digital wins. If anything, that tells me that if the NCRA doesn’t adopt it, it doesn’t fly. If we, the stenographers in the marketplace today, do not accept your inferior methodology, and keep marketing ourselves, we stay on top. If they’re so sure that these steno-centric programs won’t work, why bother saying they cannot win? Simple. They’re guarding an empty city. If they get you to give up recruiting, educating, and empowering your fellow reporters, the market’s open for them to come in and pick up the pieces. You decide whether that happens. Are you going to let five people scare off 20,000 of you?

Look no further than their straw man future predictions to see how weak their argument is. What will the market look like in 2039? What will happen in 20 years? You don’t know. Nobody knows. So when the “experts” tell you what’ll happen, they hope it’ll give you a sense of security, and you’ll act or fail to act, and become a participant in their version of the future. That’s how that works. It’s an echo chamber claiming steno will fail in the hopes that that’s how things roll. Are you going to fall for it?

I’m generally not going to cover the STI too much on this blog. Who wants to give clicks to a cherry picking propaganda outfit? But look at the beginning of this post again. Look at all the people who made claims that turned out to be untrue. I’ll give you one more. In 2017, I was told more or less not to bother with this blog because nobody would read it or find what I had to say credible. It was impossible. This year I had 13,000 views and 6,000 visitors. Here’s a prediction. You can do that. You can do anything you’ve got motivation for. And you can do it a heck of a lot better than the experts. I’d say the people out there working every day are the experts. To wrap this up, let’s just say that if someone is telling you that something is impossible, or that something is definitely going to happen, you want to look at their motives before you buy in. Last question. What’s your next move?

Historic Rate Data: New York 1990s

We’ve got another snippet of the past. Last time, we looked at historic rate data from the west coast of the United States. Today, the old Federation of Shorthand Reporters contract hit the web. That’s the east coast of the United States. For those who don’t know, there was a union for freelancers in New York City in the 80s and 90s. They had their struggles and legal hurdles, and they do not exist today, but the agreement stands as a gateway to the past that we can use to inform our future.

And inform our future this should. A quick glance at the contract tells us the November 1991 rate for a regular was 2.75. Expedite $3.35. Daily $3.65. As with last time, I shoved this into an inflation calculator. Inflation, remember, affects all currency. It impacts every industry. It impacts every dollar earned in this country every year regardless of who is earning it or what job they do. If you have money, you are pretty much guaranteed to have inflation. Even virtual economies in video games experience inflation. It is a concept inherent to capital.

You know what I learned? That $2.75 rate in 1991 dollars had the buying power of $5.12. That means if you’re making $3.25 today, you’re working 40 percent harder to have the same buying power. If you’re making $3.50, you’re working about 30 percent harder to have the same buying power. Even at a gorgeous rate like $4.50, you are working 10 percent harder than they did in the 90s to make the same buying power. When I say work harder, I mean more pages. When I say more pages, we all know that that translates to lost time with our families, friends, and more time staring into our screens racing deadlines. If you’re a newbie like I was, and you’re started out at $2.80, you basically need to do double the pages that they had to do in 1991 in order to have the same buying power and quality of life. Again, we’re not talking about a raise. We’re talking about keeping the same exact quality of life.

It’s time to train each other. It’s time to share this info so we don’t stay on this ride. For every reporter out there who doesn’t know, there’s a reporter ready to be suckered. It’s that simple. Staying quiet will force people right out of this field because they’re being expected to work much harder to have the same quality of life. Personally, I have no problem accepting that there are market forces pushing down that rate. It’s not $5.12 or bust. But have some respect for ourselves. I have no problem saying we need to rise up and be damn good at what we do. Can you walk into an agency and say “hey, the rates from 1991 were better, I need a raise?” No. But it’s time to end the culture of silence, look at what was, keep each other informed, and stride toward where we want to be.

October Occupations 2019

Before we get into this post I just want to say I updated the old Get A Job post to include the exams page of NYSUCS. I still say that every jobseeker in New York should be checking the pages linked there every 15 to 30 days to be safe. Share findings. Be committed to keeping everyone up to date. If everyone is talking about where the work is, nobody’s left in the dark.

Even though this page launches October 1, postings are only current as of September 30.

DANY is still hiring for their grand jury reporter position. It’s a great job. Definitely give it a shot.

Special Narcotics Prosecutor, as I recall, had a posting for one grand jury reporter. Now there’s a posting for two. I say that if you haven’t applied yet, it’s your lucky day, go for it.

The state court system is still accepting applications for the provisional court reporter job. If you didn’t take the test, it still might make sense to apply. If they didn’t get enough passes on the civil service exam, they’re going to need you.

Southern District, that’s federal court, is still looking for a reporter. Don’t let this great opportunity go to waste if you’ve got the certifications or skill necessary to work with SDNY.

There are over ten vacancies federally all around the country. If New York’s not where your heart is, no big deal, but you’re not allowed to leave (joke).

Plaza continues to keep a posting for court reporting and English instructors.

New Jersey has apparently started hiring for the first time in a long time. I had posted this on Facebook but not on Stenonymous. Hopefully the government has realized the inherent value of having someone personally responsible for making the record.

Freelancers, I know that there’s often not a lot of postings on here with regard to work for you. I will work on something that might help there. Until then, you’re free to check out my recent post on historic data and inflation, as it impacts every dollar we make every day we breathe. I have been getting emails from Magna claiming over $100 in bonus fees. Now that I think about it, this probably gives you a clue what’s actually being charged for appearance fees, and a peak into the law of supply and demand. You’re in demand. Your skills are in demand. Act accordingly, do great work, and make a great record.

Fun fact. In the editor this post has no bullet points. In the preview it does. Which version will everyone see? That is the question. If you’ve ever wondered why some posts seem to have bizarre formatting, I blame computers.

The vTestify Lie

I’ve often worried we too often buy into hype from voice recognition sellers. Dragon represents itself as being 99 percent accurate, but only has about a 3-star rating. Opened up to scrutiny, VR and digital recording companies don’t make the cut.

So we had a company mentioned on Facebook called vTestify. They brag about all the money they can save people on depositions. Just knowing what I’ve reported in the past, other voice recognition companies have raised a lot of money. Verbit raised $20 million. Trint raised something like $160 million. As far as I can tell, vTestify raised $3 million. Either they’re 50 times more efficient than everybody else or they’re woefully underfunded and their investors are set to lose while the company lurches along burning capital. Let that sink in for the next time somebody is trying to sell you the future, investors!

I would’ve left it there, but then another reporter brought up that they have a calculator. The claims there are laughable. They claim that they can save attorneys $3,198 per deposition. I don’t know what reporters in North Carolina are charging, but I know here in New York I could get somewhere around $4.00 a page, and maybe on a great day a $100 appearance fee. A pretty thick day is about 200 pages, only ever getting to that 300 or 400 page count occasionally. So take 200 pages multiplied by 4. 800. Add on that sweet appearance fee, and maybe it comes to 900 bucks. Even real-time reporters only charge a buck or two a hookup, so even with 6 hookups, we’re still only talking maybe a $2,000 day. We can all acknowledge that these glamorous multi-thousand dollar days exist, but the bottom line is that’s not the norm and vTestify isn’t actually saving anybody a dime. Their calculator doesn’t even make any sense. When I added the numbers they gave, I got $3,646. Somehow their calculator comes up with $4,329.

It gets better — or worse — you decide! Then we have this snippet about the court reporter shortage. Using their numbers and assuming it’s totally true, they say there are 23,000 reporters to cover 3 million depositions. What a crisis! Except when you take three million and divide that by 23,000, you get 130 and change. If every reporter took 131 depositions a year, using vTestify’s own numbers, we’d be just fine. There are about 260 weekdays in a year. Succinctly, if every reporter worked half the weekdays in a year, by vTestify’s own argument, there’d be no shortage. Let’s not forget all of the steno-centric initiatives like Open Steno, A to Z, Stenotrain, and Project Steno, that have taken place since the Ducker Report to bring people into this field. Are we really expected to believe there was zero impact and things went exactly as predicted? I don’t, and you shouldn’t either. Let’s put this another way. If the median salary of a reporter is about 57,000, reporters are only taking home, on average, 5,000 a month gross. So how can vTestify be saving anyone 3k or 4k per deposition when the average reporter is only grossing 5k per month? They can’t. But that doesn’t stop them from saying they can.

We have one decision to make in this field. Are we going to get out there and educate the consumer, or are we going to lay down and let these irresponsible companies fake it until they make it? There’s zero compunction with lying to make a buck, and customers need to know. Smart purchasers have already seen through this BS and stuck with stenographers through thick and thin, and they’ve done better for it. Tried, tested, efficient; stenographic reporters are the way to go. Maybe vTestify will figure that out and make the switch themselves!

Remember all this next time you see somebody peddling a similar product. And next time you’re making a sales pitch, ask your buyer what their monthly budget for depositions looks like. If it’s more than $5,000 a month, I have a few numbers above that say they can save a whole lot by switching to stenography.

Shortage Solutions 6: Pay the Piper

Everybody knows the story about the Pied Piper. A town has a terrible vermin problem and the Pied Piper comes, promising to do away with the problem. The Piper uses his or her flute, pipe, or whatever musical instrument the story calls for, and plays a magical tune that lets him or her lead all the rats to the river to be drowned. Upon the Piper making good on their promise, the town refuses to pay the Piper, and the Piper uses that magical tune to lead all the children away. The moral of the story is pay your debts — or else!

When I was a newbie, people had no trouble telling me I needed to pay my dues, accept whatever an agency was willing to toss me, and move forward. Those people were right. In the beginning, one needs to be hungry and establish themselves. So it’s with some amusement that I get to say now to all of you: Make sure after that initial starter period that the Piper is paid. Court reporters, you are the Piper. The agency is not the Piper. The agency went through the trouble of marketing and receiving work to dish out to you, but if any one particular agency didn’t exist, the depositions would still be occurring, the demand is more or less fixed.

In the face of fixed demand and a fairly specialized skill set of deposition or stenographic reporting, it makes sense that as the supply of court reporters goes down, the price must rise. Here in New York we were pretty depressed on rates. Agencies were offering $3.25 a page and 25 cents on a copy, if that. Things were bad. Now the shoe is literally on the other foot, and it’s time for reporters to demand to be paid, and for agencies to pay them before the reporters take your children away.

I have to say, one starter company that seems to get this shifting paradigm is NexDep. It looks like they want to pay Reporters 4 a page and 2 a copy. 2 dollars, just so you know, not two cents. I reached out to Daniel Perelman, ostensibly NexDep’s founder, just to get a little more insight on what they’re doing or things they’d like reporters to know about their company.

My very first question was whether they had a referral program like many of the success stories out there, and he confirmed that NexDep does have a referral program where a percentage of every job from the referred client would go to the referrer.

Next I asked about wait time, and Mr. Perelman explained they don’t currently bill for wait time, but also stated he was open to it and understood the need to bill for wait time in the event a reporter was sitting and waiting for hours on their time. He did also mention to me that the reporter’s full-day appearance fee is always given, even if the deposition is a half hour long.

Asked about RFPs and whether NexDep was taking a step into any of that territory, Mr. Perelman stated that they were open to any business opportunity, but also noted that his experience with RFP contracts tended to result in low pay for reporters. My takeaway was that if it wasn’t getting his reporters paid, he wasn’t going to take it.

Finally, asked if he had anything he wanted to tell reporters or the field about his company, he wrote, “Nexdep is the first to market on-demand court reporting platform. We’re popular not because of our low rates, but because we make scheduling incredibly fast and simple on the client end, while also making the accepting of jobs fair and easy on the reporter end. We’ve made freelance court reporting a truly freelance career again.” Honestly, I first met Mr. Perelman at the Plaza College Court Reporting Symposium, and he was honest and upfront about not being a reporter, but his company policies tell me he knows who we are and the value we bring to the table.

Now all this said, I have definitely had some anecdotes from reporters who said “I signed up for NexDep and haven’t gotten anything yet.” So that indicates to me that there’s definitely a larger market share for NexDep to go out there and grab — but maybe this is an opportunity for all the other agencies and all reporters to figure out that one sure route to retain reporting professionals is to make sure they’re getting paid for doing the lion’s share of the work.

The Cost of Doing Business

Dragging up part of an old retainer agreement just to prove a point here. As you can see from this example, if the case went to depositions, the law firm intended to charge almost fifteen dollars a page to me, the client. Let’s just say that in New York at that time, 2014, it was pretty easy to find someone to do it for 4. Many of my contemporaries were working for $3.25 a page or less. Being somewhat shy, I never bothered to ask why that was so high or explain the going rate of a stenographer.

But this should raise some questions for us in the field. If this was in a retainer, what kind of rates are really being charged for our services? Is there really a race to the bottom? Certainly, some owners have bid low to get contracts, and that can hurt our fees, but I have felt for a long time that if we started to see invoices from various law firms around the city and state, we’d see a pattern emerge of winners and losers.

The losers are undoubtedly those who do not make it part of their business to learn what they are truly worth. Learn exactly what the market will bear and demand it. The lucky thing about being a loser, I can say from experience, is that it is a mindset more than a personality trait. We all have the capability of changing our minds, pulling ourselves out of a worker mentality of “I will work and get what they pay” to “What is my value really?”

In deciding your rates and what you want in life, you should create a simple spreadsheet or list. You can use Google Sheets today for free. Write down all of your expenses. Your business and personal expenses. How much is your food, shelter, supplies per month? Add to those expenses any business expenses you might have to improve your business. Think classes, certifications, equipment. You take that list of expenses, and you have the absolute bear minimum you must make. Now consider what you would like to make. Go over to my math tables on how many pages you need to make your desired annual salary. Look at the different amount of work you have to do at each rate, and see for yourself the cost of doing business.

Remember that you are the provider. It’s not going to get much cheaper than your expenses unless you live a very lavish lifestyle. Why does everything cost so much? Because at the end of the day, people and their families have to eat. So don’t be shy about applying that to your business, asking questions, pushing up your rates when appropriate, and be confident about the skill you’re selling. Hopefully seeing $14.95 in print raises questions for you like it did for me. You’re a winner, earn like one.

Table of Contents

Here we have a table of contents of various concepts and the writing Stenonymous has done on them.

Anticontracting…

Explanation, what is AC?

Antitrust…

Why Not Discuss Rates, association liability.

Associations…

Value of Assoc, NYSCRA

NYSCRA Certs, waiving provisional test.

For Stenographers, NYSCRA and NCRA.

Why You Matter, math behind members.

How Organizations Work, including associations.

Billing…

Simplified, NY billing.

Branding…

Meet Stenographer, reporter got hijacked.

Copies…

Conundrum, copy value.

Digital Reporting…

To Digitals, urging them not to undercut.

US Legal, ads for digital.

Veritext, pushing digital.

Veritext March 2019, pushed digital.

Planet Depos, pushed digital.

Verbit, recording and transcription.

Educators…

Transcript Marker, free.

Todd Olivas’s Slasher, free.

Creating A School, new NY process.

Medical Terms Refresher, for tests.

Legal Terms Refresher, for tests.

WKT Randomizer, geared for NY.

Finger Drill Generator, free.

Guest Writers…

Stay Strong, Joshua Edwards, 2018.

Open Steno, Claire Williams, 2018.

LiveSteno4U Review, J. Edwards, 2018.

How To…

Judiciary FOIL, NY

CaseCAT, characters per line.

Make F Keys Work, when they’re not.

Make Writer Work, on new computer.

Kill Superfetch, with alacrity.

Run A Business, basics.

Understand Holding Companies, basics.

Write Persuasively, basics.

CaseCAT E-Signature, one method.

Think About AI, basics.

Timed Dictation, create timed dictation.

Independent Contracting…

Independent v Employee, differences.

Form SS8, IRS determines status.

Direction & Control, more distinctions.

Jobs…

Real Job – finding work NYC

Law…

Remote Swearing, New York.

Law For Stenographers, New York.

FRCP, USA.

Grand Jury Recording, New York.

Sexual Harassment, USA and NY.

Copyright, a brief overview as applied to us.

Leadership…

Rebel Alliance, how everyone contributes.

Savior Chimera, the numbers make steno a market leader.

Marketing…

Magic, selling a feeling.

Negotiation…

Art of Deal, who you know

Turnaround, considerations.

My Sister, know when to make demands.

Verbit, who’s helping who?

HRD: First Look, historic rate data from California.

Open Steno Project…

Open Steno, steno for all.

Aloft, project by Stanley Sakai.

Typey Type, for self-learners.

Outreach…

To Our Agency Owners, use steno.

To Our Litigators, use steno.

Political Action…

Writing Elected Officials, brief.

Price Fixing…(See Antitrust)

Rates…

Audio Transcription, costly.

Rate Sheet, what’s in them?

Case For Higher Rates, better accounting.

Inflation, higher rates.

What Rate, math tables for rates.

Cost of DB, cover your expenses.

Rate Data FL CA, first look at rate data.

Rate Data 2 NY, 1990s rates.

Org & What, about charging habits.

Pricing Yourself, thoughts on how the game is played.

Shortage Solutions…

Monster, doing nothing not viable.

SS1, remote proceedings.

SS2, coverage area.

SS3, private labeling.

SS4, direct market apps.

SS5, public perceptions.

SS6, pay the piper.

SS7, recruitment.

SS8, retirement.

SS9, listings.

SS10, contracts.

SS11, logistics.

SS12, Stenography

Shortage Stats, March 2020

Strategy…

Diplomacy, keeping our cool.

Public Records, seeking information.

We, why we need each other.

Freelance Loyalty, loyalty to yourself.

Tips on Tricks, be aware of users.

KISS, keeping things simple.

Enforcing Rights, instead of complacency.

Power of Contract, have one.

Allies, have many.

Constantinople, identifying decline.

When Agencies Won’t Collect, ideas.

Stop Gatekeeping, hurts us.

Limits of Institution, how you fit.

Good Reporter, urges resourcefulness.

Commitment, win by any means.

Competing, can’t win if you don’t try.

History, how it informs our future.

Power of No, can make you money.

Getting Involved, you make a difference.

Empty City, don’t buy competitors’ hype.

Big Box, don’t ostracize allies.

Them, emphasizes working together.

Pitchfork, the need for diverse ideas.

Cert Shaming, building each other up.

Sell, why grabbing clients is good.

Lie, the importance of identifying spin.

Guard, about not believing everything AAERT says.

Buying Hype, about promoting facts over a sales pitch.

Why & When, to stonewall.

Pricing In Fear, dealing with a bear market.

Beware Busywork, not letting planning defeat doing.

Students…

Real Job, finding work NYC.

Learn Steno, resources.

Beginner’s Trap, true freelance.

Strike That, do you take it out?

Forgot Caption, NY E-filing.

Off Record, disagreements on going.

Interrupting, when and how.

Take It Out, caution editing.

How Are We Paid, it varies.

Parentheticals, the basics.

Cultural Literacy, its importance.

Hardware 2017, computer basics.

Audio & You, tool or crutch?

Emails, clear communication.

Passive Learning, mastery takes time.

State v Federal, understanding captions.

Briefs, a caution.

Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect, thoughts.

Tax Basics, forms I’ve filed.

Specifically Pacific, verbatim?

Speech & Years, verbatim?

Interpreted Jobs, parentheticals.

Mistakes, you will make them.

Rejection, it happens.

Third Person, messy interpreted testimony.

Stipulations, important.

Inadequacy, why didn’t school teach me?

Employability, truths to consider.

Perfection, sometimes good is good enough.

Tips, general student help.

Value Gradients, different upcharges.

Audio Revisited, more cautions.

Be Social Media Smart, cautions.

Let Go, learning not to backspace.

Errors, how many do you get?

C Bank, technique to short writing.

Log, spreadsheet for logging practice.

Retro, achieving goals by working backwards.

Mentoring, list of all mentoring programs.

Disappointment, importance of boundaries.

Pattern, using pattern writing.

Impostor, forgiving Impostor Syndrome.

Enemies, importance of not saying too much.

Loans, a short discussion of loans.

Workers Rights…

Unionization, freelance.

Workers Rights, cautions.

Gov v Gig Economy, about IC regulation.

– – – –

Writers wanted…

Write Stenonymously, on this blog.

Seriously, write on this blog.

Fundraising…

Fundraising page, support this blog.

Jobs Archive…

March, 2019.

May, 2019.

June, 2019.

July, 2019.

August, 2019.

September, 2019.

October, 2019.

November, 2019.

December, 2019.

January, 2020.

February, 2020.

March, 2020.

April, 2020.

May, 2020.

History…

NYSCRA Prep 2017, for court test.

NY Constitutional Convention, 2017.

Exam Prep, 2017.

Reporter Sharing, 2017.

Disclaimer, 2017.

Exam Prep 2, 2017

Sad Iron Stenographer, first appearance.

Dave Wenhold & Lobbying, 2018.

Typos, Stenonymous PSA.

NCRA Amendments, 2018.

Open Letter to NCRA, 2018.

NCRA Retention Fairness, 2018.

Learn to Caption by Anissa, 2018.

Veritext Buys Diamond, 2018.

License Plates History, 1993.

Positive Reporting, 2018.

New Year, New Rates, 2018.

Wenhold Reaffirms Steno Support, 2018.

Release of Diamond’s Old Renewal, 2010.

Language Study, 2019.

NYSCRA Social, Feb 2019.

Learn About Steno, Plaza, 2019.

Steno v Digital, 2019.

Stenofest, 2019.

Mistaken For The Reporter, 2019.

Stenotrain, 2019.

Wake Up, WUNCRA, 2019.

MA Payonk: Steno First, 2019.

Stenonymous Goes Ad Free, 2019.

NYSCRA Bagels and Lox, 2019.

NCRA: Stenographers, 2019.

NY Courts Want You, 2019.

Language Study Revisited, 2019.

NYSCRA Opens Prep, 2019.

Veritext Scholarships, 2019.

NCRA Survey, May 2019.

NCRA Amendments, 2019.

Burngirl CaseCAT Tips, 2019.

Stenonymous Suite Concept, 2019.

RJR, June 2019.

Leadership Book Review, 2019.

Stenovate, 2019.

Steno Speed, 2019.

Global Alliance, 2019.

Library of Congress, 2019.

Resurgence, 2019.

NCRA Virtual Town Hall 9/21/19, 2019.

Outfluence, 2019.

Raise Your Rates, 2019.

MAPEC 2019, 2019.

Stenonymous Suite EV, 2019.

Impossible Institute, 2019.

Economics of Caring, 2019.

NYSCRA Survey January 2020, 2020.

A Night In Brooklyn, January PYRP, 2020.

Stenonymous on Facebook, 2020.

Eastern District Hiring, 2020.

Trust Issues & Veritext, 2020.

Stenopalooza, 2020.

NYSCRA Student Webinar, 2020.

To Our Litigators

RE: Stenographic Reporters

If you’re reading, I’m going to hope you’re the kind of lawyer that we all look up to. You’re responsive to clients, you’re honest with potential clients about what you can do for them, and you’re ready when it comes to filings, motions, discovery, or trial. Maybe you’re the one at your firm tailoring your service to your client’s budget, or maybe you oversee someone doing that for you. But the end is the same, giving the consumer the best value for the budget.

That’s what urges me to write today. There has been a lot said about “AI” transcription and digital recording versus stenographic reporting. There has been a lot said in my field about the Ducker Report and a forecasted shortage of court reporters. Some brave companies are turning to remote reporting, where legal, to allow a stenographer to appear remotely. Other courageous reporters are doubling their workload to meet your demand.

There is one solution that’s come out known as digital reporting. The main idea is that someone will record the proceedings, run it through a computer program, and then someone will fix up what the computer does. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is what we stenographers actually do. The major difference is we are stenographically recording (typing!) every word, and the computer is accepting that stenographic word and turning it into your English transcript.

The bottom line is: It simply ends up being more efficient to do it our way. One person, perhaps two, can stenographically record and transcribe an entire proceeding and have it to you that night or the next morning. For your dollar, there’s just not better value. Stenographers type four to five times faster than your average typist, so to finish the same proceeding, we are talking about four or five times the usual turnaround time for transcribers, or four or five times the staffing. Take the number of stenographers you have today, and multiply that number by 3, 4, or 5. If you think there’s a shortage and/or workflow issues now, imagine a world where you need five court reporters to put together your one proceeding. Imagine a world where the transcript is questioned and you need to bring those people in to testify instead of one stenographer.

Trust me when I say the firms switching to digital reporting or demanding you change your deposition notices to allow digital reporters are not saving you or your clients any money. Ever notice how there are almost never prices posted online for services? That’s because most of these companies act as middlemen. They make an agreement with you or the insurer, and then they make an agreement with us, the stenographers or transcribers, and they keep what’s in the middle. It’s really that simple. I would not be surprised, as a stenographer, to learn that I only made $3.25 a page on some of my old depositions with 25 cents per copy while the agency I worked with charged whatever they charged. 5? 6? 7? I don’t know. I only know that when I consulted a lawyer, the lawyer wanted almost 15 dollars a page if my case went to depositions.

I’ve been a stenographer for a long time, and I see two roads that you, the litigators, may take. You can let the sellers decide the market, and eventually stenographers won’t be an option, or you can make a sustained demand for a stenographic reporter at every dep. When lawyers start turning to direct market apps like Appear Me, Expedite Legal, and NexDep to get stenographers, those agencies pushing the digital and AI will jump on board and do whatever it takes to increase your supply of stenographers and get your business back.

Stenographers have been serving the legal community for decades. There’s been a push in recent years to do away with us because of a public perception that our methods are antiquated. Ironically, the people leading this charge are the companies we trusted with selling our services. So to our litigators: You now know all I know, and the customer is always right. Which will you choose?

Value Gradients for the Stenographer in Training (180+ WPM)

In this article we’ll get down to the different kinds of services offered by freelancers and some officials. This’ll be for the benefit of the relatively new and uninitiated. If you’ve already obtained some mastery over the basics of steno industry or if you’re brand new, this really won’t be for you because you already know about it or are just too new to be worrying about it. I say if you’ve completed 80 percent of a 225 words-per-minute program, 180 WPM, this is probably a worthwhile read.

So there are different things in this field that add value to your work as a stenographer. While we can’t necessarily get behind the subjectivity theory, value is, to a great degree, subjective. This means that simple things like writing a professional cover letter, resume, or contract pitch can make you, at 180 WPM, more valuable than a person who can get 225 WPM but can’t really nail the grammar on anything. Consider the first gradient in your whole career to be learning to write professionally, and always look to improve that writing.

Then we get to the simple things offered by stenographers that pull in more money, typically called upcharges. Often markets are different, and “employers” may even tell you that “they don’t pay for that.” This is a tactic to get you more comfortable with doing the work for less. If there are more stenographers willing to do the work for less, the “employer” has leverage over the stenographers that know about these upcharges, and can bypass them and have you do it for less money. Work smarter, not harder, and consider asking several reporters in your market about the types of upcharges they get. Here are some common ones: Medical testimony, expert testimony, video testimony. Some charge up to 5 percent more for late night work. Some even add an interpreted testimony fee to make up for the time lost to interpreted depositions, which are often fewer pages per hour.

Related to what we just went into is confidence. There is a level of unease that comes with being new. You will probably be pressured to take jobs for less than they are worth. Immediately out of training, it’s agreeable to take all you can get. That said, after a couple of months, after you’re used to getting the transcripts out and doing the work, have the confidence to talk to some other reporters in your market and learn more about what’s expected locally. Don’t talk to one or two — talk to as many as you can. One reporter may say don’t get out of bed for less than a thousand. Another reporter may say hey, if you can rack up 6 busts in a day, it’s okay money for zero work. Have the confidence to take all the different types of jobs just mentioned. In my “class” of reporters there was a very strong fear about taking medical testimony. It had been hyped up as this impossible thing. To be clear, medical words can be unique or difficult, but having the confidence to go out there and do it makes you a better writer with the marketable trait of being able to take any kind of job. There is value in a person that can be sent to any type of job.

Let’s touch on some more common upcharges. Expedite. What is an expedite? That depends. When I started, a “regular” was 2 weeks. Anything quicker was some kind of expedite. Of course the rule follows: The faster they want it, the more they should pay. Nowadays, agencies are pushing people to make 7 or 5 days the regular. In my mind, this is much too short, and it devalues the worth of an expedite. It’s what people who play strategy games would call “a stupid move.” That said, if you can get your work out faster than “regular”, that adds value.

Daily. What’s a daily? You take the job, go home, transcribe, and the job is done by the next day. If you can do a daily, again, there’s value there. Not every single stenographer or transcriber can fulfill a daily. Indeed, to fulfill a daily, multiple transcriptionists have to be put on the same job sometimes. If you can do a daily, you can probably make a thousand or more dollars in a day without being realtime because daily jobs can be worth double a regular in freelance.

Immediate. Immediate is basically you finish the deposition and within 30 minutes to an hour it is ready to go out. The bottom line is the client is getting the transcript pretty quick after the deposition ends. Only the best reporters with 99.9 percent accuracy or a phenomenal scopist behind them can achieve these kinds of levels.

Rough. Rough is basically you go through the untranslates and fix up the transcript before sending it out with the understanding the finished transcript comes later. A rough can be a dollar or more per page in upcharges because it’s basically like an easier immediate. Proceed with caution: Many reporters go out there and produce roughs that are basically unusable. Some of my own roughs have been pretty bad. Always seek to improve and get out the best roughs so that lawyers are encouraged to use this service.

Realtime. Maybe you’ve heard of realtime reporting. It’s among the largest upcharges because these reporters have their words coming out on a laptop or tablet screen for the client. I haven’t personally done realtime, but I know that these reporters can command a dollar or more per realtime hookup on top of their daily, medical, or other upcharges. Why are these upcharges important? More money per page equals fewer pages to make the annual income you want to make. We’ve got over 900 mathematical calculations to show this off.

Now that we’ve been through these different levels of skill, let’s look at how it’ll apply in the real world. Certifications exist, and they are important. That said, in many states and municipalities you can offer these services without the certification. What does this mean? It means that the limiting factor is you. It’s your skill and comfort level. It’s your willingness to go out there and say yes, I will take a medical. It’s the desire to get your skill level to a place where you can realistically offer these things. Your value, to a great degree, is dictated by you.

You will go out there and have bad jobs. There will be hard days. There will be times you feel shaky about the service you’re providing. There will be “employers” who make you feel replaceable. Just keep improving. Know where you are at. Be open to feedback, but don’t live by it. Learn from every mistake. If you are in training and know you are able to produce a daily transcript already — great! Don’t let anybody take that away from you. Don’t accept, as fact, that anybody can do it or that nobody charges for that. The freelance world — the business world — is a tough one. There are buyers and sellers, and the buyers will always be looking for a way to knock you down on the price. Remember these gradients in value, and remember that the more of them you achieve, the more you have something to sell.

NYSCRA Bagels and Lox February 2019

Some will have seen an article authored after a little prodding and editing (AKA help!) from another reporter, Devora Hackner. Photo archive here. Obviously, I had overall positive impressions from the entire event. Got to meet Steno Joe in person! The food was absolutely amazing. There were literally three or four tables of food and everything from bagels to sushi. NYSCRA spared no expense and its sponsors did an amazing job. If you were a non-steno there to learn about steno, you walked away sated and happy. I do think it was an important showcase of our field, and there were over 100 seats, most full.

Unfortunately the structure of the event prohibited me from seeing the CaseCAT and Eclipse trainings, but I know both trainers are at the top of their game and I have personally attended Anthony Frisolone’s past webinars and a Local 1070 seminar, and it’s always been a wonderful experience. If you need CaseCAT help, Anthony is the man. His training is worth every dime. Quick note, the photography by Shmuel Amit was also amazing and is featured mostly along the bottom of the original article.

There are two major points that don’t get covered in the article because Stenonymous and that article have different audiences. Firstly, when Jane Sackheim got up to speak, it was an honest surprise. Hadn’t been on the agenda. It’s rumored Diamond put 1,500 or more down on the event though, so there’s no real issue with letting a sponsor like that get a few words in. If I had a sponsor that good, we’d be sponsoring stenographers to visit NYC high schools. Jane did say there would always be a need for court reporters. Given the current climate, I hope she meant stenographic court reporters, but given that she was funding a NYSCRA event along with ASSCR, we’ll assume it was stenographic court reporters! Then there was a talk about balance.

Jane said it was always a balance between paying what a reporter would accept and charging what a client would pay. That is an insightful thing to think about and consider. Not every single proceeding is worth $400 per page, and there is a certain point where clients just wouldn’t pay. That said, I have always been under the belief that we are incredibly underpaid in New York. When I was freelancing, many of my contemporaries and I were making in the ballpark of $3.25 per page and 0 to 50 cents on a copy. Back at that time (~2012) I met some freelancers out from Ohio who reported they made a dollar or two a page on copies. Different markets? Yes. Different jobs? How different can they possibly be? We had a hard time negotiating here in New York. We were told there were too many reporters and not enough work because that was a convenient thing to say to get us to accept low rates. Now there’s a reporter shortage but we shouldn’t ask for more because clients won’t pay it? All the respect in the world for a woman that built a business and ran it so well that Veritext decided to buy it out rather than compete with it. There’s power to the personality that runs the ship. But here is something I think every reporter should consider: We don’t know the truth until invoices start leaking. We don’t know if the copies are being charged at a buck a page or 4.85 a page. We have to question it for ourselves and decide how to build our own brands and reputations. We don’t know and therefore we can’t say with certainty today what the truth is, but it’s probably somewhere between clients won’t pay and reporters expect too much. We know there’s a serious profit margin in the business because almost every reporting firm has a main office and a satellite office in every borough of the city, and I would point to that each and every time someone says the agencies are hurting. Do business with these agencies, and do good work, but be open to the idea that sometimes you are told things that are subjective are objectively true. We did over 900 math calculations, and to not be working all the time, you either have to be a fast transcriber or making in the ballpark of $5.50 a page average. That’s a tall order, but I believe that if agencies and reporters continue to put down money and ideas to enhance the field and our professional organizations, we’ll be okay.

Without further delay let’s end this on a high note. Nonmembers who attended get $18 off their membership this year. Also, NYSCRA did something incredible. They asked for the following:

    Seminar speakers you’d like to see.
    Seminars or speeches you yourself would be willing to conduct.
  • So what’s left to do? Write NYSCRA today at nyscra@bowermanagementservices.com or head over to their site at NYSCRA, tell Tim he’s doing a GREAT job, and share your thoughts and ideas. They’re asking for them! Personally I’d love a few seminars for freelancers on how to be marketable to agencies and how to be marketable to attorneys directly. Hopefully in the coming weeks we’ll have an interview with Eve Barrett of the Expedite app to discuss exactly that. I think these things are perfectly attainable, but it’s time for members and potential members to ask for them.